“Is wine good for you?” – perhaps one of the top 10 most regularly asked questions in our wine tasting events. It’s always interested me that this question is at the forefront of many wine drinker’s minds, and it’s clear this is linked to the increasing interest in what goes into wine, and how it is produced.
It’s regularly notedthat wines (particularly reds), when consumed in moderation help combat cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and even Alzheimers. Epidemiologists for instance have consistently shown that the moderate consumption of alcohol and wine helps lower cardiovascular events such as heart failure. Why? Well although alcohol is a toxic substance, in moderation amongst other things, it is an anticoagulant (which in turn prevents blood clots).
It’s not only alcohol however – phenolic compounds present in wine are also known to be beneficial. One of these, Resveratrol (seemingly the wonder compound) seems to have an extraordinary breadth of benefits, from attacking cancer cells, protecting the heart and brain from damage, reducing inflammation, and lowering the instances of diabetes. Resveratrol has even been credited with reducing age related illnesses. Interestingly, 100 times more resveratrol is absorbed by the mouth than by the stomach. Because of this, it’s recommended you sip wine, rather than knock it back.
On this point, it’s not just how much you drink, but how you drink that matters. A further study (in Italy) has shown that consuming wines with a meal significantly reduces the risk of a heart attack.
THE FRENCH PARADOX
The perceived benefits of wine drinking are not new however. The well known French Paradox (essentially the observation that the French have a relatively low incidence of coronary disease, despite having a diet rich in fat) was first brought to light by an Irish doctor by the name of Samuel Black in 1819.
This phenomenon was revisited in 1991 on 60 Minutes, a CBS news program in USA, with the suggestion that red wine decreases the incidence of cardiac arrests. The follow-on? A 44% increase in red wine consumption, with US based wineries lobbying for the right to label their wines as “health foods.” The reaction from the American public was so great that wine brand Gallo had to put their Hearty Burgundy wine on allocation.
Inevitability, there have been dissenting voices, not least the statistics collected between 1990-2000 by The World Health Organisation who have shown coronary disease in the French may have been underestimated, and may be similar to those of neighbouring countries in Europe.
Despite all the research, as usual it’s all about moderation. Moderate drinkers have been defined by some as those who consume two 5 ounce glasses of wine a day, although sex, age, build, and general health all make generialisations risky. We know where the limits are – go overboard and all the adverse effects of excessive drinking are yours for the taking (liver disease, pancreatitis, cardiovascular disease..).